Today I am pleased to welcome Sandra Wagner-Wright, author of “Rama’s Labyrinth“, a work of historical fiction based on the real life of Pandita Ramabai. I have read the book and found it fascinating. I’m honored to have Sandra tell us a little about Rama’s life.
It is an honor to share some of Pandita Ramabai’s story. Rama was a woman with many aspects: Daughter, Orphan, Wife, Mother, Widow, Reformer, and Christian Evangelist. Always one to ignore everything except the belief in her destiny, Rama changed religions, crossed oceans, lived independently, and cared for those who could not survive without help.
Pandita Ramabai was born into a family of wandering Brahmins. Her father, the Sanskrit scholar Anant Shastri Dongre led his family to sacred Hindu shrines throughout India seeking blessings. The family lived by the donations he received after telling religious stories, giving away anything that was extra for the needs of the day.
Photo: Pandita Ramabai. Public Domain.
Anant Shastri believed women had a religious responsibility to learn. He taught his wife and daughters the Sanskrit classics. In particular, he believed that Rama’s destiny was to be a scholar, not a wife. With no fixed home and unable to speak local languages, Rama’s family was self-contained. With her older sister Krishna, brother Srinivas, and mother Laxmibai, Rama maintained ritual purity.
Photo: L-R Laxmibai, Rama, Anant Shastri, Srinivas, Krishna. Standing person unidentified. Public Domain.
After losing her parents and sister in the Great Famine of the Madras Presidency, Rama and her brother arrived in Kolkata (Calcutta). Rama was twenty years old and a recognized Sanskrit scholar. She lectured publically on the need to educate women. Rama and her brother became friends with a young barrister, Bapu Bipin Medhavi. Alone after her brother’s death in 1880, Rama married Bipin. She gave birth to a daughter, Manorama. Without warning, Bipin died from cholera, and a new chapter in Rama’s life began in 1882.
Photo: Rama at age 20. Public Domain.
Rama decided to resume her career as a public lecturer and educator. In particular, she decided to build a school for Brahmin child widows. With assistance from the Anglican Sisters of St. Mary, Rama and her daughter traveled to England. Here Rama stepped away from her past and became a Christian. A short time later, Rama traveled to America where she met with women’s reformers to raise money for her school.
Photo: Rama and her daughter. Public Domain.
In 1890 Rama established Sharada Sadan, her school for widows, in Pune, India. Almost immediately Rama’s Christian beliefs brought her into conflict with both her Indian and American sponsors. Meanwhile, Rama underwent her own crisis of faith. She reached out to famine victims from all castes and brought them to her new farm, a place she called Mukti – House of Salvation.
Photo: Studio portrait of Rama in local clothing. Public Domain.
In the midst of rescuing hundreds of women and girls and building a female community, Rama continued her own spiritual journey. Mukti was an openly Christian enterprise, and in 1905 the site of an enormous Christian revival.
Photo: Entrance to Mukti, early 20th century. Public Domain.
Photo of grounds of Mukti by Author.
More information about Pandita Ramabai, including photographs, is on my website You can also find photos on my Pinterest board dedicated to Rama’s Labyrinth.
Sandra Wagner-Wright holds the doctoral degree in history and taught women’s and global history at the University of Hawai`i. Rama’s Labyrinth is her first work of historical fiction. When she’s not researching or writing, Sandra enjoys travel, including trips to India, South Africa, and the Galapagos Islands, among other places. Sandra particularly likes writing about strong women who make a difference. She writes a weekly blog relating to history, travel, and the idiosyncrasies of life. Check out Sandra’s webpage.
Rama spent her childhood visiting Hindu shrines. She wanted a home. But no. The family wandered until death left Rama alone. Twenty years old, erudite and womanly, Rama arrived in Calcutta. She met her husband and was content until death again destroyed her life.
A single parent, Rama crossed the water to England and the United States, educated herself, and returned to India a Christian. Ready to open a school for child widows, Rama faced prejudice. Could she be trusted?
At every point, Rama pushed against a labyrinth of isolating false starts. Engulfed by controversy, without resources, and determined to fight death, Rama built a home for famine victims. Would this be her labyrinth’s center or another dead end?
Rama’s Labyrinth is a work of biographical historical fiction about the life of Pandita Ramabai. Available in Kindle ($2.99) and print ($19.99) editions at Amazon.com.